Like Fast Food Nation and The Insider, Trade originated in a nonfiction exposé. In “The Girls Next Door,” which appeared in the January 25, 2004, New York Times Magazine, Peter Landesman reported on young women and men abducted into sexual slavery and transported from Mexico into the United States. To adapt it to film, screenwriter José Rivera devised composite characters and a plot that echoes the genre he employed in The Motorcycle Diaries. Trade is a road movie, in which two mismatched travelers arrive at mutual understanding, and also New Jersey.
When goons from the Russian mafia abduct 13-year-old Adriana (Gaitan) a few blocks from home in Mexico City, 17-year-old Jorge (Ramos), who spends his days fleecing tourists in the Zocalo, is determined to rescue his sister. He follows her trail as far as Juarez, where he makes the acquaintance of a middle-aged Texan by hiding in the trunk of his car. An insurance investigator from McAllen who is searching for his own daughter, Ray Sheridan (Kline) is touched by the plight of the scrappy young Mexican, enough to drive him to the Northeast, where winners of an online sex auction collect their human loot. We cross-cut between their journey and the ordeal of Adriana and other raw captives who are beaten and raped en route to the market.
Ray’s back story — an adulterous affair produced a child he never met — is inserted through awkward flashbacks and clumsy conversations with Jorge. However, in its depiction of brutal trafficking in human bodies, Trade provides a harrowing immersion into depravity. Like Eastern Promises, it demonstrates that Russian gangsters can be as ruthless as Italians or any others. But, conceived out of conscience as much as commerce, this film demands solutions to a current social problem, even if its claim that tens of thousands of sexual slaves are smuggled annually into this country is exaggerated. A smug federal official tells Ray he is too busy to address the plight of one little girl. His is comfort bought with ignorance, not a fair trade.